By Ron Leir
The suggestion came from English teacher Kathy Williams but once it was out there, it didn’t take long for the kids from Lincoln Middle School to jump into it.
Led by the school’s Student Council, the seventh- and eighth-graders are joining 10,000 schools worldwide in a venture co-sponsored by global retailer Aeropostale and youth volunteer organization DoSomething.org, with “Teens for Jeans,” to collect used jeans for homeless teens.
According to the sponsors, they have collected more than 4 million pairs of jeans just in the past several years.
“In 2012, when I was Student Council adviser at Franklin School, we participated in Teens for Jeans and at that time, we came in among the top five donors nationwide with 4,600 pairs of jeans collected,” Williams said.
This year, she said, Lincoln School hopes to surpass that achievement but it’s going to take some doing since as of last week, the total raised was 400 pairs.
But the students remain undeterred.
John Camac, president of the Student Council, has taken the initiative by emailing the principals of Franklin, Washington and Schuyler elementary schools and asking them to join in the enterprise and Williams has extended the collection deadline to Thursday, Feb. 12.
As an incentive, Teens for Jeans offers the school that hauls in the most jeans an opportunity to win a $5,000 grant and a free concert by The Vamps, a British pop band.
The program is pushing jeans as a valued clothing item for their durability and for providing “a sense of normalcy” among those teens whose lives have been disrupted. The sponsors say that kids under 18 “account for 39% of the homeless population.”
“Get involved,” urges a flier circulated by Lincoln students to their peers. “Clean out those closets and dresser drawers. Pack up those jeans that don’t fit you anymore. We’ll collect all sizes and colors.”
Several Student Council members offered their take on the project.
Brianne O’Callaghan said she’s enthused about participating because, “it’s nice to actually get to help people, to give something to people who are on the streets all day.” She said she’s observed homeless – not in Kearny – but elsewhere in New Jersey and “it’s sad to see that.”
And, “even if you don’t actually see homeless people,” said John Millar, “it’s still good to know you’ve made a difference in their lives – whether it’s five or 5,000.”
Anthony Bianchini took heart in noting that the pants drive “is a great way to help others without spending a lot of money.” And Cedric Briones said: “It’s been wonderful to see kids come together for this program.”
For Council Treasurer Justin Jablonski, learning that it’s not just adults that are suffering was a revelation. “I didn’t realize that kids our age are also out there and that it’s not just a bad streak of luck,” he said. “That’s depressing.”
Bianchini said this project has inspired him to take on a community service project, “Help Serve Vets,” through his home parish at St. Stephen’s. This summer, he plans to visit an area V.A. facility to visit and extend a helping hand to hospitalized servicemen and women.
Teens for Jeans is an application of this year’s Student Council theme, “Community and Me,” Williams said. “We’ve written letters to veterans and decorated Operation Goody Bags distributed to emergency first responders and veterans.”
When all the jeans are accounted for locally, Williams said they’ll be tied up and bundled and transported in teachers’ cars and/or school bus to the Aeropostale outlet in Morristown for distribution by volunteers to the homeless.